From Being “Enlightened” to Being “Woke”: Racial Justice Work in American Convert Buddhism

Colloquium | October 3 | 5-6:30 p.m. | 180 Doe Library

 Ann Gleig, University of Central Florida

 Center for Buddhist Studies

On May 14 2015, a delegation of 125 Buddhists gathered for the first “White House-U.S. Buddhist Leadership Conference,” during which they delivered a letter titled “Buddhist Statement on Racial Justice.” This letter should be seen as part of efforts to challenge racism and white privilege in American Buddhist convert communities spanning over two decades. For much of this time, such efforts have been either marginalized or ignored. Due to the combination of a committed network of Buddhist Teachers of Color and the impact of #BlackLivesMatter, however, such work is being increasingly centered. The aim of this paper is to examine racial justice and diversity work in American Buddhism. It will highlight the main pragmatic and theoretical strategies employed to integrate racial justice work with Buddhism, as well as consider opposition such work has faced. Finally, it will reflect on the significance of such developments for Buddhist modernism in the United States.

Ann Gleig is an Associate Professor of Religion and Cultural Studies at the University of Central Florida. She is the author of American Dharma: Buddhism Beyond Modernity (Yale University Press, 2019).

 CA,, 5106435104